The Chicago Bears are preparing for their biggest game in two years but key injuries loom large. If they are to pull off the upset, they will need all hands on deck. Judging from the looks of the first practice report of the week, that being the case is at risk. The Bears had four very important players, offensive and defensive, listed as limited or DNP on Wednesday.
Injuries Loom Large for Chicago Bears Ahead of Super Wild Card Weekend
Old and New Faces
Chicago held a walk-through, so perhaps this should all be taken with a grain of salt. But they listed Jaylon Johnson as limited and Buster Skrine as a non-participant. It’s an improvement for Johnson but the rookie hasn’t played since Week 14 and it’s showed. Skrine hasn’t been great this year and maybe Kindle Vildor would still play over him were he healthy.
The Bears also had to add two new names to the report, Roquan Smith and Darnell Mooney. Smith has been having a stellar season; leaving some up in arms over his being snubbed from the Pro Bowl. Mooney is fifth among rookies in catches and sixth in yards. No Bears rookie receiver has ever matched, let alone exceeded, his 61 catches and 631 yards.
Skrine is probably the only one of the four who is truly expendable. But you need Johnson with a potent passing attack that gets Michael Thomas back. Smith is the only guy that has a chance to stick with Alvin Kamara. Mooney is by far the fastest Bears receiver and a necessary against a Saints pass defense ranked third in DVOA, per Football Outsiders.
Ground and Pound
David Montgomery has been at the center of the Bears turnaround on the field. After Bill Lazor took over play-calling, Montgomery went from averaging 3.6 yards per carry over the first nine weeks to 5.16 per tote over the last five of the regular season. Who the opponents were is of course of great importance. But Montgomery has gone from about 14 carries per game to 19 and over the last three weeks, he’s averaged more than 25 carries per contest.
New Orleans is second in rush defense DVOA. It will be the fifth opponent ranked in the top-10 in rush DVOA the Bears have faced this season (technically, it’s the sixth, but one of those was the Saints). Montgomery averaged under 3.3 yards per tote and had just one rushing touchdown in those games.
To be fair, all of the aforementioned meetings with top-shelf run defenses came before Lazor took over, and mostly with Nick Foles under center. We know how much the threat of Mitchell Trubisky’s legs has opened up the ground attack. The Bears must stay true to recent form and stick with Montgomery, the fifth-leading rusher in the NFL this season, even if they struggle early.
A Long Time Coming
The Bears aren’t just heading into their biggest game to face a daunting opponent while several starters’ injuries loom large. They’ll be fighting against history. Chicago hasn’t beaten New Orleans since 2008 including being 0-2 against Sean Payton’s crew under Matt Nagy. They haven’t won in New Orleans, where this game will be, since 2005.
Nagy’s tenure has been marred with losses to teams like this. The Bears have far too often looked listless against the upper-level competition. A slow start against these Saints will surely lead to an early playoff exit. But sticking with the ground attack (as a means of keeping the defense honest) was their strategy against the Green Bay Packers and it would have worked had the Bears been able to convert in the red zone.
New Orleans is fifth in scoring on the year, but they’re third in the last three weeks while Chicago is ninth. Defensively, the Saints are sixth in scoring while the Bears are 13th. There is no easy path for the Bears here. They will likely have to steal a possession or two but they can win. They’ll need to gain clarity on the injuries looming over them, but they can win.
Chicago Bears Injuries Looming
Both Khalil Mack and Allen Robinson were full participants in practice on Wednesday, alleviating some of the lesser concerns to bigger names. And the Bears can make do without Skrine. But Smith, Johnson, and Mooney are vital. It would be a challenge to get this win with a fully healthy roster. It will be damn near impossible to win without Smith, Johnson, and Mooney.
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